This article is featured in the 2024 Winter Carnival special issue.
The pine trees shimmer with a delicate dusting of sparkling snow, while the frosty wind nips at rosy cheeks and noses with icy kisses. This defines winter in Hanover, which is notoriously polarizing within the Dartmouth community — while some love the cold, others make a break for the indoors each time they step outside. Regardless of students’ preferred temperatures, those who stay on campus for the winter term indulge in opportunities to romanticize the season and make the most of it despite the chill.
Grace Schwab ’24 said her favorite place to escape the cold while embracing Hanover's winter’s beauty is the Tower Room. The comfortable, green chairs are the perfect place to study while gazing at the snow falling outside, Schwab said.
“You can see out onto the Green, and you can see the snow falling and accumulating on the Green,” she said.
Although outdoor seating is usually avoided during the winter months, the Collis Center fire pits are another favorite site for Schwab.
“I haven’t [used them] this term, but I’d hang out with my friends there in the past,” she explained. “It was so nice to talk outside, see the snow-covered Green and stay warm at the same time.”
In addition to the breathtaking natural scenery, the Dartmouth community takes great pride in its many cherished annual winter traditions.
“The winter traditions here at Dartmouth allow you to experience life through a different lens,” Sudiptha Paul ’27 said. “Dartmouth likes to garnish those experiences and advocates for them.”
One of Dartmouth’s beloved winter traditions is the annual snowball fight. During the first big snowfall of winter, “Dr. Seuss” extends a whimsical invitation to the Dartmouth community for a thrilling, midnight snowball battle.
“The snowball fight is so quintessential,” Schwab said. “There's just something magical [about it].”
Paul added that as a first-year, the snowball fight was “a great introduction to what winter can be like at Dartmouth. It’s just kind of out of this world.”
Another of these exciting and highly anticipated moments arises with Dartmouth’s iconic, annual Winter Carnival. This year’s Winter Carnival will take place from February 8th to 11th, and the theme is “Winterstellar: A Carnival in the Cosmos.”
Irene Wang ’23, who plans to graduate this winter, remarked on her excitement to participate in this year’s Winter Carnival. Due to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and her D-plan, this will be Wang’s second Winter Carnival.
“I just want to experience everything again this year,” Wang said.
Wang is also excited to participate in the carnival with new and different people. She said she is curious to experience the Winter Carnival with ’27s who will experience the tradition for their first time as she experiences it for the last time.
Wang said the different themes and merchandise designs every year are a fascinating and crucial component to maintaining the nuance of the Winter Carnival.
“I think it’s an exciting part that keeps this tradition alive,” she said. “It brings a new excitement or a new blood into this old tradition.”
Amongst the many activities that will be available at the carnival, Schwab, who works at the library, expressed how one of her favorites is the traditional Baker Tower tours.
“I love giving tower tours, where people can go up to the top of Baker Tower, and you can write your name inside the tower,” she said. “It’s just a wonderful tradition.”
One of the most anticipated Winter Carnival traditions remains the polar bear swim, where students jump and swim in a frozen Occom Pond. According to previous coverage from The Dartmouth, the tradition originated in small-scale, clandestine swims prior to Rachel Gilliar ’98 and her efforts in 1994 to legitimize the swim into a tradition.
“I did it last year — it’s that once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Wang said.
“[The polar bear swim] is something that I feel is pretty unique to Dartmouth and is one of my favorite things to do in the winter,” Schwab said. “Everyone comes out to Occom, and it’s freezing. It’s so masochistic, but everyone buys in; your toes go purple because they’re just freezing on the ice, but everyone’s smiling. It’s so exhilarating."
In a campus-wide email on Feb. 6, the Winter Carnival Council announced that the polar bear swim will be canceled this year due to high temperatures predicted for Winter Carnival weekend, resulting in unsafe ice conditions on Occum Pond.
Paul added that he appreciates how Dartmouth's traditions engage students with the outdoors around Hanover.
“One of the things that makes Dartmouth so unique is the fact that our events are tailored to living with nature, whether that’s in our traditions or our events,” he said.
Schwab reflected on experiencing winter traditions during her freshman year, winter term 2021, when many traditions were impacted by the pandemic.
“I wasn’t even ‘on’ in the winter, so I didn’t experience anything regarding winter traditions, since I was doing everything on Zoom,” she explained.
However, Schwab said this experience gave her “a newfound appreciation for all the traditions because [they’re] something that [she] originally didn’t get.”
“I find them even more beautiful,” she said.
Another beloved tradition at Dartmouth is ice skating on Occom Pond.
“If you’re on in the winter, you have to go ice skating," Kara Davis ’26 said. “It’s just such a fun time. Everybody is so carefree. You can feel the winter vibe. I feel like winter can get dreary, but when the ice skating rink is open, everybody wants to go and do that.”
Unfortunately, due to weather constraints, it is unlikely that Occum will be opening in the near future. The College has provided the alternative of a skating rink on the Green.
Schwab shared her appreciation for the College’s implementation of the ice skating rink on the Green. However, she said she believes many people haven’t gone because of the rink’s limited size and reminisced on skating on Occom Pond.
“[Occom Pond] just felt more rugged than ice skating on the Green,” Schwab said.
Davis agrees with the conflicted attitude towards community ice skating opportunities on campus.
“It’s a good attempt, but it’s not getting that feeling,” she said. “I feel like [on] Occom, you’re in your little world. When you’re in the middle of the Green, it doesn’t feel as genuine and is too small. I get what they were going for, but it’s not enough of an escape from campus.”
However, some, like Paul, admire the whimsy of it all:
“I love the fact that we have an ice skating rink out in the Green — nobody else does that,” Paul said.
Another way students make the most of Dartmouth’s winters is by taking advantage of the Dartmouth Skiway.
“Before I got to Dartmouth, I had only skied once before and it was terrible,” Paul said “I decided to take ski lessons this winter, and I recommend it to every single person. I was so scared because I hadn’t done it in so long. I fell so many times, but I just felt so at home. Even though I was on the bunny hill, it taught me a sense of doing new things. It takes courage; learning to overcome fear is how you can get the most out of these new experiences.”
Even outside of specific winter sports or athletic activities, the traditions at Dartmouth, in general, bring the community together during the often grueling cold, dark months.
“I feel like it is such a privilege that we’re all on this campus,” Schwab said.”"Even though it’s super cold, and sometimes the weather sucks, the fact that we have these uplifting things to do feels so beautiful.”
When reflecting on what he has learned and experienced during his first Dartmouth winter, Paul said he is enthusiastic about immersing himself in Dartmouth’s community through these shared traditions.
“Winter here is rough, but your friends keep you going,” he said. “I think that’s something that Dartmouth emphasizes. We always come back to this idea of community; I feel like the number one reason people come to Dartmouth is the traditions and the community. You build lifelong friendships. You [make] lifelong connections. Winters here can suck — I didn’t realize how brutally cold it would be. But I also didn’t realize how heartwarming it would be knowing that my friends are alongside me, suffering in the cold together and having fun together.”